Senior shortstop Brian Wilhite isn’t really sure why he’s made an incredible leap at the plate from a season ago, but he won’t question it.
The senior captain is just one of two Hoosiers to start every game this season, solidifying his spot in the lineup as a reliable player in the field and at the plate.
His 38 starts this season are more than in his entire career combined, enabling him to get in a groove in the batters box and become one of the more respected hitters in IU’s lineup. This season, Wilhite has used a recent surge to increase his batting average to .287. The shortstop’s 32 RBI’s are a team-high.
“I don’t see a lot of differences in my swing really, I think I’m just a little bit more relaxed up there,” Wilhite said. “I’m really not trying to do too much, just get my hands through the baseball, and it’s jumping off my bat right now.”
When the young Hoosier lineup, which features three upperclassmen on a regular basis, was scuffling to start the season, so was Wilhite. Limping out of the gates, IU lost seven of its first 10 games.
In that 10-game span, sophomore outfielder Logan Sowers went down with an injury, freshman catcher Ryan Fineman was still splitting time at catcher and the Hoosiers were getting zero production out of its nine-hole hitter.
It might not have been the end of the world, the Hoosier anchor hit five-for-37 to start the season and displayed some rust from the long winter.
But the problem was that this was Wilhite, and the captain was struggling mightily. In a spot where IU Coach Chris Lemonis could use an extra leadoff hitter, Wilhite was being used as recycled material instead.
When the Hoosiers returned to Bloomington to play their first home games of the season, Wilhite started to settle in. As the cream and crimson faithful packed the stands to take a glimpse at the unseasoned baseball club, the senior made sure that all eyes were on him.
Tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh against Western Carolina in the home opener, Wilhite’s senior counterpart and starting pitcher Kyle Hart balked home the go-ahead run as he stood at the mound in utter disbelief.
Wilhite made sure that Hart wasn’t going to lose the game on a mental error. With a runner aboard and one RBI already on the day, he approached the plate on a mission.
He connected on a pitch, sneaking it over the left field fence for a two-run home run to give the Hoosiers the lead and eventually the victory.
“Those at-bats for a guy who’s had some tough at-bats too really had some huge hits for us,” Lemonis said. “Also, some of the defensive plays he’s made this year have been pretty special.”
Since that day, Wilhite went on a torrid 13-game stretch at the plate. He went hitless in the following game but was determined to show that his big knock wasn’t a fluke.
A 10-game hit streak followed his hitless bid in game two against Western Carolina, and he hit safely in 12 of the next 13 games. He went on a three-game stretch in late March torching Toledo, Butler and Indiana State to tally four home runs and 13 RBIs. All of this came while batting out of the final spot in the order.
Wilhite started to tone down the power numbers following the emphatic three-game stretch he pieced together. When he was swinging the hot bat, it was able to give the young Hoosiers in the lineup time to properly adjust to collegiate pitching.
Fineman and his fellow freshmen, utility man Luke Miller and designated hitter Scotty Bradley, were all hitting over .300 at the end of Wilhite’s fairytale run. He was also able to provide the pop that IU was missing without Sowers in the lineup, as the sophomore outfielder returned in the second to last game of Wilhite’s coming out party.
Although he only has eight RBIs since the series opener against Indiana State, he’s had six multi-hit games since and is currently riding a 5-game hit streak.
Throwing out Wilhite’s dreadful start to the season, the Barrington, Illinois, native has a batting average of .343 as the Hoosiers sit 11 games over .500 since starting 3-7.
His six home runs are one behind Sowers for the team lead and currently tied for 10th in the Big Ten, while his 32 RBIs leads the club and is sixth best in the conference.
“He got really hot so now it seems like he’s not as hot,” Lemonis said. “He’s still giving us good at-bats just maybe not as many as he was during that one streak.”